Can a Prosecutor Change Charges Mid-Trial in Utah?

Trials are well-rehearsed proceedings between attorneys that are supposed to have few surprises. When going into a trial, you have probably had many conversations with your lawyer and have also probably gotten some insight into what the prosecutor is likely to do. With so much being planned beforehand, it may seem as if nothing can change during the trial. That, however, is not true. Defendants may be surprised and dismayed to know that even the charges against them can change during a trial.

Prosecutors are allowed to alter the charges being brought against a defendant during trial proceedings so long as there is evidence present to support adding new charges. If there is nothing to support new, more serious charges, then the prosecutor should not be able to increase them in the middle of a trial in Utah. Moreover, prosecutors need the approval of the judge to amend the charges being brought against a defendant.

To get free assistance from Overson Law’s Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers, call us at (801) 758-2287.

Why Would a Prosecutor Change Charges Mid-Trial in Utah?

It may at first appear like altering charges in the middle of a trial makes little sense. After all, why would a prosecutor change their mind about something they have doubtless prepared a long time for? The answer is that new information can change the equations. New evidence being introduced into a case can lead prosecutors to lower or increase the level of charges against a defendant.

When prosecutors decide to pursue a case, they file criminal charges at the level they think they can obtain a conviction. The idea is to “play it safe” and get the ball rolling on potential criminal proceedings. Once the criminal legal process has started, though, more information may come to light that changes the prosecutor’s views on what an appropriate level of criminal charges is for a given case. Under Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 4A(c), indictments can be amended so long as no “extra” offenses are charged and the defendant’s rights are not violated.

However, a prosecutor can, under some circumstances, increase the seriousness of a crime someone is charged with during trial. Per Rule 4(d), prosecutors can add additional offenses to a charge, but the defendant is then entitled to a preliminary hearing on the new charges. Under Utah Code § 77-17-8, prosecutors must also have probable cause to believe that a defendant has committed another crime they should be charged with.

While prosecutors can make charges more serious, they can also lower the level of seriousness. Therefore, you should not always think of a prosecutor altering charges as a scary thing. In fact, they may even be considering dropping them.

Factors that Affect a Prosecutor Altering Charges in a Utah Trial

Numerous factors can make a prosecutor think it is a good idea to change charges during trial. Below, our Park City criminal defense attorneys will examine some of the possible reasons a prosecutor may want to change the charges against a defendant.

Attorney Negotiations

It may not look like it, but even criminal legal proceedings have some cooperative elements between attorneys. Our lawyers and the prosecutor will probably discuss your case a great deal, and we may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce charges to less serious ones.

An example of how this could happen is through something called a plea bargain. A plea bargain is when the prosecutor chooses to drop the seriousness of charges against a defendant in exchange for a plea of “guilty” for the less serious crime. There are a number of benefits to the prosecutor for doing this. First, it makes them look better, as getting convictions is part of their job. Second, it saves time. Prosecutors have many cases on their plates, so it is often the case that they must choose which cases to devote resources to. If they can neatly wrap up your case, that lets them focus on other defendants potentially charged with more serious crimes.

While deals with prosecutors may seem appealing, you need to consider them carefully with the help of our lawyers. Accepting a plea bargain still puts a crime on your record, whereas at trial, the prosecutor may not be able to get a guaranteed conviction.

New Evidence

A common reason why prosecutors may want to change the charges against a defendant is new evidence coming to light. This could be beneficial to your case if the evidence casts doubt on the veracity of the prosecutor’s claims. They may reduce charges to something they feel is more attainable. On the other hand, new evidence that suggests more serious criminal conduct may sway a prosecutor towards pursuing a much more serious charge.

Sometimes, new evidence demands that a prosecutor lower or drop charges. A prosecutor is not allowed to withhold evidence that they know exonerates the defendant. This is called the Brady rule after the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland. Violations of this rule are taken very seriously. A prosecutor refusing to drop charges based on Brady evidence can have their conviction thrown overturned, and the trial may need to be done all over again.

Lesser Included Offense

Many serious crimes have what are called “lesser included offenses.” Lesser included offenses are crimes that have to be completed out of necessity as an element of another crime. For example, robbery requires stealing something through violence. Therefore, you have to commit theft to commit robbery. During a robbery trial, the jury is allowed to find that a defendant is not guilty of robbery but still guilty of the lesser included offense of theft. Prosecutors know this, and will inform the jury of these included offenses. However, a prosecutor is not allowed to change the charge from robbery to theft halfway through. The trial must remain for robbery the whole time.

What Should You Do if Charges Against You Change Mid-Trial?

Having the charges a prosecutor brings against you suddenly change can be a jarring and scary experience that can make many people lose their cool. Rest assured that a change in charges does not necessarily mean that your case has gotten any weaker. Here are some helpful tips on how to manage a prosecutor changing the charges against you during a trial.

Remain Calm

This is easier said than done, but it is best to remain as stoic as possible, especially if the charges against you are becoming more serious. Reacting poorly can make it appear to the jury that you are not pleased with this turn of events, and that could put it in the back of their minds that you may be guilty of whatever the prosecutor is alleging.

Let Our Lawyers Handle It

Our lawyers are used to charges being changed mid-trial. We know what we are doing, so there is no need to worry on your part if charges are altered.

Have Our Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers Help You Out Today

Do not hesitate to get a free case analysis from Overson Law’s Ogden criminal defense lawyers by calling (801) 758-2287.